The Reverend Dr
Guite at a 2014 poetry reading
|Born||Ayodeji Malcolm Guite|
12 November 1957
Ibadan, Oyo State, Nigeria
|Occupation||poet, priest, singer-songwriter, educator|
|Alma mater||University of Cambridge (BA, MA)|
Durham University (PhD)
|Subject||Poetry, literature, Christian theology and apologetics|
|Notable works||The Singing Bowl, Sounding the Seasons|
|Spouse||The Rev'd Canon Dr Margaret Guite|
Ayodeji Malcolm Guite (born 12 November 1957) is an English poet, singer-songwriter, Anglican priest, and academic. Born in Nigeria to British expatriate parents, Guite earned degrees from Cambridge and Durham universities. His research interests include the intersection of religion and the arts, and the examination of the works of J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, Owen Barfield, and British poets such as Samuel Taylor Coleridge. He is currently a Bye-Fellow and chaplain of Girton College, Cambridge and associate chaplain of St Edward King and Martyr in Cambridge. On several occasions, he has taught as visiting faculty at several colleges and universities in England and North America.
Guite is the author of five books of poetry, including two chapbooks and three full-length collections, as well as several books on Christian faith and theology. Guite has a decisively simple, formalist style in poems, many of which are sonnets, and he stated that his aim is to "be profound without ceasing to be beautiful". Guite performs as a singer and guitarist fronting the Cambridgeshire-based blues, rhythm and blues, and rock band "Mystery Train".
Early life and education
Guite was born on 12 November 1957 in Ibadan, Oyo State, in Nigeria. At birth, he was given the first name Ayodeji which is a Yoruba tribal name meaning "the second joy". According to Guite, the name was suggested to his mother by the Yoruba nurse who attended to her through a difficult childbirth and whom Guite states probably saved both his and his mother's life. His parents were British expatriates living in Nigeria where his father was a Methodist lay preacher who travelled around the country prosletyzing. His father also taught as lecturer in Classics at the University of Ibadan. According to Guite, after ten years in Nigeria, his father "ever the wanderer, went and got a job in Canada, where we then moved".
Although his family had settled in Canada, his parents thought he was losing his British identity and decided to enroll him in boarding school in England where he spent his teenage years. He attended the Haberdashers' Aske's Boys' School in Elstree, Hertfordshire. He would describe the boarding school experience as terrible, an "atmosphere of guilt, oppression and general alienation" where he strayed from his childhood Christian faith. In its place, Guite embraced a "rational scientific materialism" coloured by B.F. Skinner's behaviourism and the existentialism of Jean-Paul Sartre and Samuel Beckett.
During these years, Guite states that he was not sure whether he belonged in England or in Canada, having questions about how he identified himself. In the end, however, he decided that he belonged in England after winning a scholarship to Pembroke College, Cambridge to read English and after discovering "real ale"—something he says "they don't have properly in Canada at all". Guite adds that after these two events he "fell in love with Cambridge, and I've never quite escaped its gravitational pull". Guite returned gradually to his Christian faith, first under the influence of beauty in the poetry of John Keats and Percy Bysshe Shelley and visits to historical sites that had deep religious significance—Rome, Glen Colmcille, and Scotland's Iona. After delving into the works of Keats and Shelley, Guite decided to begin writing poetry. In his final year of undergraduate study, Guite states that he had a religious experience writing a literary paper analysing the Psalms that he likened to a conversion experience. He chose to be confirmed in the Church of England shortly after.
The University of Cambridge conferred upon Guite a Bachelor of Arts (BA)—later promoted to Master of Arts (MA (Cantab))—in English Literature from Pembroke in 1980. After he was graduated, Guite taught for several years as a secondary school teacher before deciding to seek a doctoral degree. Durham University conferred on Guite a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) degree in 1993. His doctoral dissertation focused on "the centrality of memory as a theme in the sermons and meditations of Lancelot Andrewes and John Donne and to explore the extent of their influence on the treatment of memory in T.S. Eliot's poetry". While researching the topic of his dissertation, Guite began to wonder if God was calling him to be a priest in considering the struggles of John Donne with a similar question in the early seventeenth-century.
Guite was ordained as a priest in the Church of England in 1991. As a deacon he was first assigned to a parish on "the Oxmoor estate in Huntingdon". He described this period as not having much time for writing sonnets, saying: "being a priest and a poet feels a very natural combination now. It didn’t at first". He put poetry aside for seven years, "in order to concentrate on and learn deeply my priestly vocation, and life in my parishes was totally absorbing and demanding so it felt right to let the other fields lie fallow".
Guite teaches in the pastoral theology graduate programme at the Cambridge Theological Federation where he frequently advises "clergy who are returning to academia to do a dissertation to reflect on their often amazing parish experiences". Since 2003 has been chaplain and Bye-Fellow of Girton College, Cambridge. Guite also lectures regularly in the United States and Canada, including visiting positions at Duke University Divinity School and Regent College. As an academic, Guite describes the focus of his research interests as "the interface between theology and the arts, more specifically Theology and Literature" and "special interests in Coleridge and C. S. Lewis" as well as J. R. R. Tolkien and British poets. Since October 2014, Guite has been a visiting research fellow at St John's College, at Durham University.
Guite performs as a singer and guitarist fronting the Cambridgeshire-based blues, rhythm and blues, and rock band "Mystery Train". He has collaborated with Canadian singer-songwriter Steve Bell for several tracks on a 4-CD set by Bell called Pilgrimage that was released in 2014 by Signpost Music.
Poetry and persona
How hard to hear the things I think I know,
To peel aside the thin familiar film
That wraps and seals your secret just below:
An undiscovered good, a hidden realm,
A kingdom of reversal, where the poor
Are rich in blessing and the tragic rich
Still struggle, trapped in trappings at the door
They never opened, Life just out of reach...
—Malcolm Guite, from "Parable and Paradox"
Guite's poetry has been characterised as modern-day metaphysical poems and psalms. Guite's poetry tends to conform to traditional forms, especially the sonnet, and employs both rhyme and metre. The former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, remarked that Guite "knows exactly how to use the sonnet form to powerful effect" and that his poems "offer deep resources for prayer and meditation to the reader". Concerning Guite's collection Sounding the Seasons, poet and literary critic Grevel Lindop remarked: "using the sonnet form with absolute naturalness as he traces the year and its festivals, he offers the reader—whether Christian or not—profound and beautiful utterance which is patterned but also refreshingly spontaneous". Guite has stated that his aim is to "be profound without ceasing to be beautiful". Further he has argued that a poet can discuss emotions like sorrow without having to lose form, and specifically that the goal of his style contrasts a lot of modern poetry which he states tends to be "quite difficult, jagged and rebarbative; a lot of modern poetry deliberately eschews form or beauty, and is almost deliberately trying to put the reader off." Citing these difficulties, Guite recounted that his entry into poetry was aided by engaging the lyrics of singer-songwriters Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen.
Houston Baptist University professor Holly Ordway writes that "Guite helps us see clearly and deeply how poetry allows us to know truth in a different but complementary way to propositional, rational argument" in her review of Faith, Hope, and Poetry: Theology and the Poetic Imagination. In a review of Guite's collection The Singing Bowl, Kevin Belmonte, a Huffington Post contributor who has written biographies of William Wilberforce and G. K. Chesterton, describes Guite as a "questing poet" whose poems "point to places of possibility—in everything—from the commonplace to the transcendent" and explore "what it means to persist in the presence of a God who hears and knows us in time of trouble". Belmonte has further characterised Guite as a national treasure for England.
Guite has commented in interviews that he has been influenced by the works of poets Seamus Heaney, T. S. Eliot, and George Herbert, and that he holds Herbert's poem "Bitter-Sweet" dearly. In discussing the impact Herbert's poem has on his views, he said "what I see Herbert saying in that poem is that we take our passions, and sometimes our faults and our brokenness and our stains, and we let God anneal his story. So there's some point in which we become a window of grace". Guite has described himself in interviews as "a poet, priest, rock & roller, in any order you like, really. I'm the same person in all three." On 11 September 2014, Guite headlined a poetry reading as part of an art exhibition at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro's Weatherspoon Art Museum. In the promotional materials for the event, organizers asked—describing the poet—"What would happen if John Donne or George Herbert journeyed to Middle Earth by way of San Francisco, took musical cues from Jerry Garcia and fashion tips from Bilbo Baggins, and rode back on a Harley?"
- 2002: Saying the Names
- 2004: The Magic Apple Tree
- 2012: Sounding the Seasons: Seventy sonnets for Christian year (Canterbury Press Norwich) ISBN 978-1-84825-274-5
- 2013: The Singing Bowl (Canterbury Press Norwich) ISBN 978-1-84825-541-8
- 2016: Parable and Paradox (forthcoming, Canterbury Press).
Christian theology and practice
- 2017: Mariner: A Voyage with Samuel Taylor Coleridge (Hodder & Stoughton) ISBN 978-1473611054
- 2015: Waiting on the Word: A Poem a Day for Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany (Canterbury Press) ISBN 978-1-84825-800-6
- 2014: Reflections for Lent 2015 (Church House Publishing) (as chapter contributor)
- 2014: Word in the Wilderness (Hymns Ancient & Modern Ltd) ISBN 978-1-84825-678-1 (as editor)
- 2012: Faith, Hope and Poetry: Theology and the Poetic Imagination (Ashgate, Ashgate Studies in Theology, Imagination and the Arts) ISBN 978-1-4094-4936-2
- 2008: What Do Christians Believe?: Belonging and Belief in Modern Christianity (Walker & Company) ISBN 978-0-8027-1640-8
- 2000: Beholding the Glory: Incarnation through the Arts, Jeremy S. Begbie (Editor), (Baker Academic) ISBN 978-0-8010-2244-9
- Nathaniel Darling, Interview: Reverend Dr Malcolm Guite, Girton, The Cambridge Student (25 April 2014). Retrieved 20 July 2015.
- Mystery Train (official website). Retrieved 20 July 2015.
- Lancia E. Smith, Interview Series with Malcolm Guite, Part 1, Cultivating The Good, The True, & the Beautiful (1 May 2012). Retrieved 19 July 2015.
- Girton College, University of Cambridge, Malcolm Guite, Chaplain (faculty page). Retrieved 19 July 2015.
- Ayodeji Malcolm Guite, The art of memory and the art of salvation : a study with reference to the works of Lancelot Andrewes, John Donne and T.S.Elliot (sic) (Durham theses, Durham University, 1993), quote from "Abstract".
- Crockford'Clerical Directory
- Jules Evans, Malcolm Guite on poetry as a door into the dark at Philosophy for Life and Other Dangerous Situations. Retrieved 20 July 2015.
- Lancia E. Smith, Interview Series with Malcolm Guite – Part 2, Cultivating The Good, The True, & the Beautiful (5 May 2012). Retrieved 20 July 2015.
- Regent College, Faculty 02/Part-time and visiting: Malcolm Guite, Chaplain and teacher, University of Cambridge. Retrieved 19 July 2015.
- Duke Divinity School, News: Malcolm Guite, Artist-in-Residence (19 July 2014). Retrieved 19 July 2015.
- St Johns College, Durham, Research: Fellows: Malcolm Guite. Retrieved 8 August 2015.
- Brian Walsh, Steve Bell's Pilgrimage Boxset: A Review", Empire Remixed (music blog), 17 February 2015. Retrieved 8 August 2015.
- Malcolm Guite, "He who has ears to hear let him hear" (lines 1–8), Parable and Paradox (forthcoming, Norwich: Canterbury Press, 2016).
- Malcolm Guite, "Parable and Paradox: He who has ears to hear...", from Malcolm Guite (blog), 29 April 2015.
- Kevin Belmonte, "Milestones: Marking Way Stations on the Journey", The Huffington Post, 17 September 2014.
- University of North Carolina at Greensboro, Weatherspoon Art Museum, "Heaven's Troubadour: An Evening of Poetry and Song with Malcolm Guite, Sep 11, 6:30pm-8pm" (September 2014). Retrieved 8 August 2015.
- Malcolm Guite, quoting Rowan Williams and Grevel Lindop, in "Kind Words From Rowan Williams" at Malcolm Guite (blog), 23 November 2012. Retrieved 8 August 2015. Note: Both quotes appear as blurbs on the cover of Guite's Sounding the Seasons (Canterbury Press Norwich, 2012).
- Sebastian Snook, "Poetry Reading and Book Launch with Malcolm Guite", Sarum College, 19 December 2014. Retrieved 8 August 2015.
- Holly Ordway, "Faith, Hope and Poetry by Malcolm Guite: Book Review" Archived 4 March 2016 at the Wayback Machine, heiropraxis.com, 1 July 2011. Retrieved 8 August 2015.
- Kevin Belmonte, "Many-Splendored Things: a Review of The Singing Bowl by Malcolm Guite" Archived 24 September 2015 at the Wayback Machine, heiropraxis.com, 4 December 2013. Retrieved 8 August 2015.
- Duke Divinity School, Malcolm Guite: Church with poetry enshrined at the heart, Faith & Leadership (20 July 2009). Retrieved 18 July 2015.
- MTV Artists, Malcolm Guite Discography: The Green Man and Other Songs. Retrieved 20 July 2015.
- MTV Artists, Malcolm Guite Discography: Dancing Through the Fire". Retrieved 20 July 2015.